Seat guests so they wont beat the band

They put off tackling the seating arrangement for as long as they could, and now they are under pressure. Tomorrow, the calligrapher wants the list of place cards, and the caterer needs the table plan.

They started working at 8 p.m. By 11, they've only finished five out of 16 tables, and the air is rife with accusations and recriminations. He says: "You told me that your great-uncle Seymour would never come up from Florida for the wedding. `Just send him an invitation as a courtesy,' you said.

"Well, here is his RSVP, and Uncle Seymour `will attend.' And listen to this chutzpah: `I know you won't mind,' he writes. `I'm bringing my lady friend, Rose.'

"Now you tell me, where do we put the patriarch and his date? The aunt and uncle table is already on overload."

She says: "Forget my uncle! What about your cousin Lauren? You know, the one with no manners! She still hasn't RSVPd.

"You call her right now while I figure out where to park Trudy. She is still on the outs with almost everybody. Do you think I can seat her at `the odds and ends' table without falling into her mouth?"

Ask the experts, banquet managers and wedding consultants; they say that "the seating chart isn't crucial to the success of a wedding, so relax."

Tell that to Debbie Stein, a magazine editor. The night she announced her engagement, her best friend announced: "If you seat me with your cousin, I'm not coming to the wedding."

And this was before the wedding date was even set. And who hasn't heard of a feud born at a wedding because a guest was seated at the wrong table?

"You need a sense of humor," advised Long Island manufacturer Steven Cohen. "Thirty-three years ago at my own wedding, my friends were seated near the band. I've heard about disgruntled guests moving the place card table number. My crazy friends moved the entire table. It was a great sight gag, but my parents weren't amused."

Did Cohen's humor hold up at his son's recent wedding? "We expected the ballroom to be a little crowded. But when my wife, Judy, and I saw it set up, we got so scared.

"People were packed in like sardines. My brother sat so close to the elevator that when the door opened, he almost fell in. He called the elevator his `private dining room.'"

And when Cohen is a guest and his table is not well-placed, "Oh, I never complain," he brags. "I'm not like my wife's relatives. My wife and I act like a lady and a gentleman. We just leave early."

Mike Rubin, a Long Island business executive, prides himself on flexibility. "Sometimes I get annoyed, like the time I wasn't seated with the guys from my weekly card game. But it's a compliment to my wife, Marilyn, and me that friends think we can fit in with a variety of people.

"Before the wedding, we usually get a panic call. The opening line is, `Promise me you'll be truthful.' I lie and say, `We'll be happy to sit anywhere you need us.' And actually, we once met a Nobel Prize winner that way."

The Rubins are planning for the wedding of their son Jeffrey. Is the mother of the groom nervous about the seating?

"It's a small wedding," said Marilyn Rubin. "We are only inviting people who knew Jeffrey in utero," she added, laughing.

Although she takes the lead from clients, Gayle Labenow, a New York bridal consultant, usually suggests a so-called Jewish-style dais composed of the bridal couple and their parents and grandparents, provided that there are no bitter divorces.

"The combined dais symbolizes the new family formed by the bridal couple," said Labenow, who is president of the Metropolitan New York Coordinators of the Association of Bridal Consultants. "A table for two at the wedding smacks of the `me generation,' not the concept of extended family."

If the hosts are worried when they start the seating plan that they lack the diplomatic skills of Henry Kissinger or the social savvy of Miss Manners, Labenow has advice to put the seating in perspective. "If you calculate the time it takes for the ceremony, the cocktails, the table hopping and dancing during the meal, a guest is only seated at the table for about an hour," she said. "A guest can put up with anything for an hour, right?" Labenow will be wrong, though, if the guest is sitting right on top of the band.

A painless seating plan:

*Don't wait until the last minute to get started on the plan.

*Have the master seating plan with you at the wedding, and give one to the maitre d' just in case.

*Do not sit feuding guests at the same table

*Don't have a "Mason-Dixon" line at the wedding reception with "his" tables on one side and "her" tables on the other.

*If you have open seating, remember to put a "reserved" sign on a few tables for elderly people who might not want to mingle.